When I was in the 7th grade, my dad took my younger brother and me to Spike and Mike’s Festival of Animation – not to be confused with their late-night and eventually more popular hard-R-rated Sick and Twisted Festival of Animation – and it utterly blew my mind. That would have been 1988 or 1989. It included shorts by Aardman Animations, before they made it big with A Grand Day Out and had a zoological take on philosophy called Creature Comforts. It was sweet, and funny, but it also was important.
Later that year, newly obsessed with Aardman, particularly Nick Park, I discovered Going Equipped at another animation festival. It was dark, scary, not at all Wallace and Gromit or Creature Comforts. It made me uncomfortable – but it was again important. My 13-year-old brain grappled with animation as medium, instead of as simply comic entertainment. And after that, it was a done deal. I sought out all the animated work I could find. Some of it was brutal but beautiful, like Akira. Some of it was abstract and alluring, like Tango. I came to realize that there’s something that makes a message more potent, more engaging and more meaningful when it comes delivered frame by agonized frame. So that’s me. I live for good animation.
Admittedly, most of the better messages come from abroad. Kubo and the Two Strings being a recent exception, most of the great animated features are coming from Europe, where they’re well-funded even if they don’t rain princesses and fart jokes. Recently in our Amazon Video queue, up popped Long Way North, a French-Danish feature that puts Sasha, the granddaughter of a famous explorer, bound for the North Pole to find her grandfather’s missing ice-breaker in 1882.
Long Way North excels in its execution. The animation is gorgeous in its simplicity, with a simple color palate and evocative imagery. It looks hand-drawn or even stencil cut, but it’s no doubt got some computer assisting the water and ice floes.
The story of Long Way North clips along quickly, but paces itself to be in line with the Russian stoicism present in the direction. The storytellers never want the audience to think the characters have anything easy. The story puts Sasha at the center of the story line in a position of self-empowered and deliberate action. She rises above the limitations imposed on her gender and position of the time, and pursues her honorable mission with laser-focused determination. The action is tense and moody, and held my attention span just as much as my 5 year old daughter’s.
Again, the resonating take-away from Long Way North is that it’s important. It’s cold and tense, and often the struggle in the film is presented with real high-stakes consequences. Self-sacrifice, honor, and survival are all important themes, and all present in Long Way North.
As much for adults as for children, Long Way North is powerful and the ending is well earned – not handed to either the characters nor the viewers on a platter. At 1h 21mins the film is just long enough to be a feature, and just short enough to get away with the pacing and inclement settings. I would point out that the music at the end of the film would not have been my first choice, as it breaks from what I would consider to be appropriate for the era.
Long Way North
Directed by Rémi Chayé
Rated PG for Scenes of Peril and Mild Language
Other topics that might come up while viewing: Survival, guns, death, sexism, bullying, geography, exploration.
|Grown-ups:||(4.5 / 5)|
|Kids:||(3.5 / 5)|